Spyda's Blog

A Hawaiian Style Fishing Blog

Rolling Your Own

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I was ten years old, we had recently moved to Oahu from Maui and my cousin Ken had come for a sleep over and some fishing at the marshland nearby. He had brought his brand new rod and reel with him. It was a Garcia-Mitchell 304 spinner and a beautiful emerald green rod also made by Garcia-Mitchell. At that age I had not seen or maybe never really paid much attention to many other fishing poles, but, I was absolutely sure that the shiny green rod was the most beautiful one in the world!

A beautiful rod is definitely eye candy for anyone involved in our sport! Even a beginners eyes light up at the sight of a shiny rod in their favorite color! The Nitro rod importers got it right bringing in a bunch of candy colors to mix in with the standards like black and yellow and even some new wave stuff like chameleon!

Me, I’m still kinda old school, most of my ulua rods are 20+ years old. Even got a half and half I built some 25 years ago. I recall hearing about a comment made about that rod by a friend and very well respected  angler, a hundred plus member in fact that, well, was not too complimentary. However, being that he is not a rod builder himself, it didn’t really bother me. Rod building for me is a personal thing, I put as much time into the design of the rod as I do building them. My rods are built for function not beauty and I can proudly say all the ulua rods I built for myself with the exception of the first two (I’ll explain), have caught more than one ulua. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say I’m some kind of bad ass builder, far from it, there have been failures along the way, that’s how you learn. After losing the first build out to sea on a monster strike, the second rod I built snapped on a big strike out at Laie point. I got hit up with everyone’s theory about why. Didn’t spine it correctly, drag set too tight, blah, blah, blah…..what ever! My friend Edmund who caught his first ulua on a rod he built, later had that rod snap in nearly the exact same spot on the blank, which was the same brand blank I used for mine. It happens, you inspect it carefully, learn what you can and move on.

My old half and half, sitting in the spot I took two unstopable strikes two years in a row!

For professionals it becomes an art, truly, a custom built rod made by a pro is, in an anglers hands like a diamond necklace, the Mona Lisa and a Ferrari all rolled in one! For amateur builders/fishermen like myself, the thrill is two part, first designing and building exactly what you want, second and perhaps even more thrilling is catching an ulua with a rod you have designed and built yourself!

I’ve never built a “jewel” like the professionals do, not saying I didn’t try, it just takes a lot of practice and a ton of patience. Those of you just starting out building your own rods, don’t fret about it, concentrate on balance and functional strength. This will catch you fish, not bling!

A bit of sarcasm in this title I suppose, truth is I can’t find any really legitimate excuses for the way I fished this past weekend at the Ewa Fenceline to Fenceline Tournament. Kind of a weird thing, even Jeff had to ask me what was up. I really don’t have any answers, I just sucked.

I guess it began on Thursday, the day before the tournament. My plan was to head out to the east side to my favorite tako grounds to pick up bait. The low tide was early in the morning so I made plans to leave Ewa at 630am. Got up at 545, woke my grandson Brendan up and told him to get washed up and ready to go. This is when I find out his father has his diving equipment, all he has is his wet suit and shorts.

So I get my gear in the jeep and start shuffling the cars in the driveway around so we can get out. When I get back to the jeep Brendan’s sitting in the passenger seat adjusting the strap on a set of goggles. “Hey, where’d you get that?”he tells me his aunty (my oldest Elisa) let him some of her kids stuff. OK, good to go then!

As we are passing through Kahaluu I see him struggling with a pair of “kiddie” swim fins! “Hey, that’s not going to work, you may as well go barefoot!” Sigh………..So, I pull into the first open store I see knowing that most along this coast carry a few fishing and diving things. I end up spending $22 on a set of Cressi fins that are nicer than my crusty old pair! Sigh…………

So with that and stops along the way for road construction we pull up about 30 minutes later than planned. The tide has already turned and is on the rise, the current will be moving. We work the inside first knowing that Brendan won’t last too long before he gets cold. So, another 45 minutes have passed before I head out alone to find the grounds out side.

As I’m working my way slowly out I notice a sandy puka with some loose rocks, don’t know how to describe why, but, it was just a little odd. So, I dive down to get a closer look. I flick the rocks with my spear just as a surge comes through, I see the rocks slide back out of sight. I can’t tell if it was the surge that did that, so, I push at the rocks with the spear again trying to find an opening somewhere. I keep flicking rocks away, but, still only feel more rocks, no opening. I dive down hold on to a rock to get a look inside as I flick rocks, FOOOM!! A huge ink cloud envelops me, I back up keeping my spear in the hole and try to watch for the tako coming out. I don’t see it, I still can’t see the hole, but continue to blindly scratch around with the spear trying to feel something. When the water finally clears I go back down and dig like crazy, nothing!! SH&*!! I circle the surrounding area for a good 10 to 15 minutes, nothing. Schooled by a tako!!

When I finally find the grounds, the current is ripping now, I fight with it for as long as I can. I realize that I’m not focused, I’m swimming back and forth not following any sort of plan to cover the area. My left calf starts to cramp, I’m done. Bruddah Bills words ring in my ears, “You sure you don’t want to pick up one tako from the shop before I sell out?”

Plan “B”, catch live bait. OK, that should be easy enough! After dropping off my gear at Bills, I grab the light whipping rig and a small bucket and the shrimp. There’s a spot I take the grandkids to now and then, lots of baitfish so they always have fun. Big tide heavy on the rise water is coming over the little barrier reef we usually stand on when fishing. No prob, just gotta figure out where the baitfish would move to in a big tide like this. I set up a little floater rig so I can explore the area easier. First cast gets stuck on the reef, lose the leader below the floater…… I check my little bag, no leader spool!……So I strip some 6lb test off the reel, re-tie the swivel and floater and attach the piece of line and tie on a new hook and split shot. The bigger leader shouldn’t be a problem in the rough water. I find fish near the middle of a small pool on the inside of the reef. I pick up two 4″ Hinalea Lauwili, perfect size! One more would be nice! Shoots, lose the leader again, re-rig with another piece of mainline, first cast  stuck again! it’s almost start fishing time, gotta go, this will have to be good enough.

Roll back into Bills, Jeff has his Ballistics locked and loaded ready to go. As I rig up I’m second guessing myself, I keep flipping back and forth, which rig to put the live bait on. Besides the hinas, all I have is ika. 6pm, start fishing! The whole beach is suddenly a flurry of activity. I put a hinalea on my new Rainshadow, whoa! Way out there! To bad it’s only the bait and not my rig………..awesome…….one left…….

Jeffs fully loaded reel after his cast! Dats how!

Unfortunately, this set back, set the tone for my casting the rest of the weekend. I had one of the worst backlashes I’ve had in years! Even cut the line in the middle of my spool! I ended up removing the sideplate to pull the spool out to get everything off, good grief!! I did throw some lead way, way out there though! I can say one thing, it brought back some memories. Memories of being a newb sitting out on the rocks at Moi Hole wondering if I’d ever get it right. Teetering on the brink of saying I quit, then realizing how stupid that was, just taking the easy way out. So, I’d pull and pull until the spool was clear, wind it all back up, re-rig and walk out to cast again. The persistance eventually paid off and my casting got better and problems encountered far fewer. That was then, this is now…..

In trying to understand, I backed up to 1996 when I basically abandoned the sport to move back to Oahu to get married. Back then my Ulua arsenal consisted of a Daiwa 450H, 600H and a Penn 9’o. The answer may just be right there. With these bigger reels, stiffer poles and heavier lead, skinny guy that I am, I could never rip these things around so my casts are dependant on rhythm and timing more than raw power like the young tigas do. So, I believe with this smaller much lighter rig I’m trying to “blast” ‘um too much! I’m losing all my rhythm and timing and basically losing control of the cast! We’ll test this theory when I get a new tip for the rainshadow……Yes, insult to injury, the tip spun on the new rod. To match the dark frames of my guides I used the closest size they had at the shop I was at. The tube was pretty big so I had to build up the tip before glueing it on. Despite re-doing it once because I wanted it stronger, it still didn’t hold! Search is on for a better fitting tip………

OH, the tournament? Well needless to say I didn’t fare very well, but, Jeff was able to land four Oio. He released a couple and weighed in the two largest for 7th place in the open class!

Jeff 7th place fish, lots of Oio in the 21-22" range, a few ounces split the places!

First Place Open, same guy that won the GT Masters! On a roll!

The rubbish bag weigh in! Danny gives prizes to the heaviest bags!

Tournament Director Danny Chamizo (left) and his volunteer crew!

Never met the man, but, spent hours watching him on TV. I still have my original autographed copy of his cookbook “Hari Kojima’s Favorite Seafood Recipes”,  I’ve referred to it so many times I should have it memorized!

Interesting guy I’m told, in my humble opinion he was a guy who epitomized the common saying “Only in Hawaii!”

Only in Hawaii, could a fish cutter be “discovered” and become a TV show host and author.

Only in Hawaii, could someone maintain a TV career for as long as Hari did, all the while speaking pidgin english.

Only in Hawaii, could someone become the Host of a fishing show with at best marginal fishing skills to begin with and learn along with rest of us from the guests on his show!

Only in Hawaii, could a “Good ‘ol boy fishing fanatic” and expert like Stan Wright end up the sidekick to a pidgin speaking local fish market employee on a popular weekly fishing show!

Only in Hawaii, could a guy live all of the above and become a household name!

Aloha Hari! You’ll be missed, not forgotten!

Weather man said heavy showers and flashflood warnings in the afternoon.

So, there we were driving to the windward side, dive gear and a couple of spinners in the back. Up on the Likelike it’s pouring! Hmmm…. OK, Kaneohe is wet, but, not raining, that’s good, right? I’m thinking to myself, “Glad I brought the gore-tex jacket!”

First stop, dive for tako. As we walk to the beach a group of divers are just drying off after their dive. Not much in their bags, hopefully they were out after fish and not tako. Unusual weather, barely any wind, remember we’re on the windward side!

Dean and I pick up one piece each and head in. This is plenty, no sense in taking any more than we need.

On the road again headed further north to a spot Dean says he has a feeling about. We get there just as my cell phone chimes a reminder about a conference call I need to dial into. So, Dean grabs his gear and heads down to the beach, I’ll catch up with him after the call.

Finally, got my gear heading down the beach, way down the beach! Geez Dean! Had I known we’d be this far down the beach I’d have lightened my load a bit! After stopping once along the way to get the feeling back in my arms I finally get there! Getting old….

As I’m setting up I look back towards Kaawa and all I see is grey! “Brah, we gonna get dumped on man!” Dean laughs and says “nah, goin spread out not goin come ova hea!”

A half hour later, we’re still dry, but, now the entire horizon is a mass of grey. Crazy lighting flashes and thunder rumbles. Haula has now disappeared into the mist! I look at Dean, all he has is a fleece hoody! I’m already formulating a plan to “turtle up” in my jacket.

“Ting a ling a ling!!” “Zzzzzzzz……ZZZZZZZZZZ!!” Whoo hoo!! Strike on Deans pole!!

Fish on!!

We both jump up from our chairs, I walk and Dean runs! I stand back and watch him fight the fish and realize we’re in an arena! Steep green ridges of the pali at our back, the horizon a thick wall of grey topped by huge puffs of cotton . Odd, it’s storming so hard and serious and we’re completely surrounded, yet, we remain totally dry!

I look back at Dean and he’s reeling in madly, “What Brah? Oio?” “Yep.” Just then it turns around and screams the reel again. Couple of minutes later a small bonefish is on the beach, maybe 3, 4lbs?

The fancy measuring device indicates the seriousness of this outing!

A quick pic and back in the ocean it goes! Deans got a grin on his face like……………… “Told ya I had a feeling!”

Did the first fishermen fish in the ocean or was it in a lake or a stream? I guess it depends on which theory of evolution you believe. Certainly for Polynesians it was the ocean. While Ulua fishing in the style we know today may be in it’s second century (my guess), it is far from being the oldest known “style” of fishing known to man. One could guess that spear or rock throwing would be the first known methods. Fly Fishing on the other hand has written references to it as far back as the 2nd century! That’s a long time ago man!

My long awaited vacation had finally come, so, grab the rods and head to the beach? That would be my normal M.O., but, this time around I was heading for California to do some fresh water fishing with my long time fishing partner Dean. Campbell, CA. a suburb of San Jose in the south end of the bay area. Dean and Judys home would be base camp, but, the fishing base camp would be in Lewiston, some three hundred miles north in Shasta County just west of Redding. Little crazy? Yea, but, getting away from the stress of work and every day routine is worth it! No cell service, at least for my carrier, so no email, text or calls for the next 3 and a half days! Oh…. yea……..! (can you feel the exhale there?)

Up there, in the trees, our home for the next few days.

After unloading our gear and groceries and unhitching the boat, we’re off to see the wizard! No, his name is not Oz and he doesn’t have a tall pointy cap or magic wand! But, many say he is magic! His name is Herb Burton, he and his wife Pat are the owners of the Trinity Fly Shop in Lewiston. IMHO, Herb is the best guide, hands down in the Trinity Alps! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good guides out there, but, very few that know the area as well as Herb and Pats’ skill as a fly tier is right there with the best! Testament to their skill is the fact that their business has thrived for nearly thirty years! This despite their shop being a couple of miles off of the main road which is already way the hell out in the boonies as it is! Our visit was not really business however as over the years we have had the distinct pleasure of becoming good friends with Herb, even hooking up now and then back home in Honolulu.

This pic is looking up into the valley, the main road is some two miles behind me!

Wind Chill, ya think?

So, over the next few days we did our thing up on the big lake (the Trinity) and on Lewiston lake right below the park where we stayed. Caught some trout the first day and actually managed to fool a couple of small-mouths with some swimmers the next.  

We ended up taking this one as it commited suicide by taking a bass jig with big hook.

We’ve all heard it, said it and experienced the “Hawaiian”connection while traveling the world. You know, no matter where you are somehow people from Hawaii will always find each other! Sometimes it’s obvious, pidgin english, rubbah slippas and shorts in 30 degree weather, but, other signs are a little more subtle, just eye contact or a small logo on a shirt. Now, Herb is not local born and raised, but, as a military brat he spent some of his youth in Hawaii and as a young adult moved to the North Shore of Oahu to live the Surf scene and culture. He has come to know the local style well and has many friends from the islands.

Well, Thursday afternoon, we get back from the lake to find a note on our door, “Call Herb”. Dean rings him up on the land line and finds out we’re invited to a barbecue at Herb and Pats! This should be fun!

OK, no pic of their house, but, the roofline just behind the fish is their home.

So, (this is where the Hawaiians finding Hawaiians thing gets tied in) at the Burtons party we are introduced to and get to talk story with Earl Miyamoto from the D.A.R.! Yes, the State of Hawaii, Division of Aquatic Resources! It turns out Earl and his long time fishing partner Ed Sakoda are pretty serious fly fishermen. They were up in Lewiston fishing for trout and steelhead with Herb as their guide of course, who else? You can find pictures of them with some hefty fish on Herbs website. Back home you can find them fly fishing the world class Oio grounds on Oahu.

Next morning, packing up for the long ride home. Can’t complain, good fishing, good friends, it don’t get any better!

Here's to hoping I can take some of this calm with me back to work!

My first experience fishing with girls was at a little stream near Kihei when we still lived on Maui. My sister Cheryl was trying to “cast” her bamboo pole and promptly hooked my other sister Kay in the left nostril! Being the proper little brother, I laughed and laughed ’cause I thought it was so hilarious! Don’t know if that little incident had anything to do with it, but, my sisters never did take a serious interest in fishing.

Years later I was lucky enough to be invited on a camping trip on the Big Island with Dean and some of his family. His cousin Charlie worked for the Forestry department so had access to pretty much anywhere on the island. We were camped at a remote beach out on the south western coastline. As part of his job, Charlie had hiked much of the coastline with his crew, so he knew the grounds well. The plan was to hike out north from camp about a quarter mile or so to fish for menpachi that night. When Charlie asked who wanted to go, among the hands raised were Deans mom and his auntie Nancy.

Now, Mom and Nancy are Big Island girls so they had done this sort of thing all their lives, still I was impressed as we all hiked out over the lava trail carrying fishing gear, buckets and lanterns. Turns out, Charlie knew his stuff and we filled several buckets with menpachi and aweoweo. Going back to camp, Charlie, Dean and I tried to carry most of the extra weight, but, despite that Mom and Nancy still hiked back with more than they took out. Not a peep of complaint from either, Fisherwomen.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time with fellow blogger and super poster “fishergirl” from the beautiful island of Kauai. With “fisher” appropriately at the fore front of the name and “girl” pointing out the unique and fresh perspective with which she tells her fishing tales I was looking forward to learning more about her and of course talk fishing!

I met the fishergirl and her husband in Kunia and after introductions and some small talk, she and I headed down the hill to Bruddah Bills where we spent the next few hours talking story and whipping the Ewa Beach shoreline behind his place. I had to leave for work so made plans to meet fishergirl the next morning take her out to some of my regular grounds the next day.

As we headed out Wednesday morning the beautiful weather and rising surf had us both feeling good about the conditions, things looked promising. First stop was at a beach that me and the boys had spent countless hours surfing, fishing, diving and in the old days, camping.

After setting our gear down under some trees it didn’t take long for her to get rigged up and off down the beach. I had a bruised toe that had I aggravated the day before walking in the sand at Bills, my fishing would be limited to dunking. With the help of a little palu I was able to catch a small hinalea and tossed it out on my baitcaster. I felt a little guilty just kicking back and cruising while fishergirl worked the shoreline, but, after hobbling around all night at work I didn’t want to risk it.

I gotta say, she hit it hard covering the entire stretch around the point and back. Despite working this stretch of beach hard the fish didn’t cooperate so, we decided to move on down the road a bit.

Although I’ve fished this area a lot over the years, there are places that I really haven’t stopped to look at for a long time. I found myself marveling at some grounds less than a quarter mile from one of our regular spots. I found it interesting that just being there with someone who had never seen these grounds before was changing my perspective!

We were looking at a nice section of sand and rock shoreline that had lots of interesting ledges and rocks that really made it look fishy! We had to give it a shot!

Told ya she gets right to it!!

Fishergirl was rigged up and off in a flash, leaving me to fight the shore break for a live bait to toss out. A little Awela took my shrimp bait and was promptly send back out on the end of a 3’o hook on my baitcast rig.

I watched fishergirl work her way down the shoreline. Very focused, spray a few casts, move on down, constantly scanning the water looking for signs, the moment of clear water to get a glimpse of the reef, perhaps some structure that might hold baitfish a predator would be hunting for. All business.

Soon, she had disappeared around the bend out of sight. I switched my focus to the surrounding beach. Don’t know it’s a carry over from my youth or something, but, I like looking at rocks. Yea, ha ha, laugh if you want! I’ve built a Japanese garden in my yard and have learned a little about form and placement, so, I’m always looking for interesting shapes in natural settings. I was sitting there messing with my camera when my bell rang and a little rip of the ratchet suddenly electrified the air!

My “Frankenstein” rod (Kimura Fenwick top with an unknown bottom half I bought at a garage sale) and the Daiwa XSHA with 40 overpowered the small yellow spot and it was soon at my feet. I looked for fishergirl, but, she was nowhere in sight, so, I ran over to my tackle box to get my tagging kit. After a couple of quick pics, measure and tag I took the fish back to the water to revive it a bit, it was strong and didn’t take long to start kicking hard and fighting me to get away. So off it went!


I caught another bait and threw it out and waited for fishergirl to get back. I was feeling like the bad host catching when I hadn’t gotten her on a fish yet. Shoots! Did I just take her fish? She certainly deserved it since she worked  10 times harder then I had. Oh well….

When she got back I was bummed to hear she had no luck, but, like a true fishing friend, she was happier than I was when I told her about the 19″ Yellow spot!

Although we stopped to look at a couple more spots, this would be the end of fishing for the day. After lunch in Haleiwa we headed back over the hill to meet Mr. fishergirl and reluctantly give him back his wife! All kidding aside it was a great day spent with a great new fishing friend!

I’ll have to say this, I know a lot of guys who moan about not catching much, but, don’t work anywhere near as hard as fishergirl does. They need to get with the program and start to fish like a girl, uh I mean a fishergirl that is!!


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They walked by holding long bamboo poles with no reels and a bucket. Just a silent nod of acknowledgement as they passed. I watched them walk out to the right side of the point and settle into a little pocket in the ledge. They sat in darkness setting up their poles. “Hooking lobsters, I think….” says Dean. I had never heard of such a thing!
Hand pole fishing for lobsters it turns out has been around along long time. When we went home the next day I took a look at Edward Hosaka’s book “Shore Fishing in Hawaii” and found a description of several methods used.
Years later in Kona, my friend Carl came by one day and described a slightly different rig that he used. This rig used a reel to accomodate spots higher above the water.
It was a very basic rig, kinda like an Oio set up. 18″ to 20″ leader 40 or 50 lb test, short leadline 3-4″. Use a lead slightly heavier than you normally use for that rod and reel, i.e. if you dunk with a 4oz use a 5oz. We liked to use odoul hooks, I don’t see them around much these days, so, those hooks they call “octopus hooks” look like a good replacement. The rod needs to be at least 10 to 11 feet long to keep it clear of the edge as you will be dropping the the rig straight down.

Set up a spike the same way you would for a hang bait, basically straight out almost laying flat. If all you are going to do is fish for lobster you can just hold the rod if you like. We usually did this to kill time when ulua fishing so used a spike and a tie down for the rod. No bell, you do need to watch the pole if you are not holding it.
Bait the hook with a strip of ika, set the rod in the spike and drop the line straight down. When you feel the lead hit bottom, engage the gears (or on a spinner, close the bail) then reel the line up a few turns to get the lead off the bottom, not too much, you want the bait draging back and forth across the bottom with the surge.
Then you sit, wait and watch, if it’s too dark to see the tip of the rod you can tape a small glow stick on it. If the set up is good you will see the rod tip bend and move in the direction of the surge, back and forth. Now, what you are watching for is break in the back an forth rhythm. Usually, it will stop at one end of the swing, then slowly start pulling the tip away. When you see this happen, carefully take the safety cord off, lock down the drag, slowly take the rod out of the spike, take up line slowly as you point the rod down to the water, then, quickly lift the rod up, if you feel weight, reel as fast as you can. Hopefully when you get the line up a lobster will be caught on your line! Swing it over land as quickly as possible. Many lobsters have been lost back to the sea at this critical moment! If you don’t get it coming up when you first lift, just hold steady pressure on the line hopefully it will give up it’s grip and come free. You need to be ready to reel it before it gets another grip on the bottom or wedges its self in a hole.

This is me holding a fat one Carl caught off "High Rock" at Milolii.

Look for places that are fairly deep, it helps to have a bit of a ledge so the “swing” doesn’t take the line into the rocks. It will take some trial and error, you’ll get stuck a lot until you find the right setting and/or spot. That first place I mention seeing the guys with bamboo poles was Laie Point back in the early ’80’s. Truthfully, I learned and only used this technique on the Big Island, where there are a lot of spots where this can be done.

Spots that work usually are the same spots that you can catch moi and mu at. In fact, I later modified the rig with another swivel and short leader and hook about 3 feet above to catch them with.  I use a #18 oio hook for this and usually aama crab for bait.

Moi or lobster, I'm happy with either!

We usually spent time catching red fish for bait, but, when everybody started to settle in for the night and it got dark around the shoreline, this was a great way to get your mind off the ulua poles. I have always believed in not “vibeing” out the rods, in other words staring at the poles waiting for a strike. I don’t think I ever got a strike when I was looking at my poles. Going bolohead on the ulua rods is not as bad when you bring home moi or lobster!

Some kau kau on the infamous "Ulua Premonition cooler".

Spinning Ulua

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Recently on the forum Bruddah Bill posted a challenge for members to come up with a low cost set up for newcomers to the sport. Had to be using market prices for brand new equipment, including rod, reel, line and total out at less than $200.


Bill started us out with a pretty good conventional set up that quite frankly would be very hard to beat price wise! So, I decided (keeping the newb in mind) to go with a spinner set up that I believe will help keep them fishing and perhaps cement the stoke if you will, so that when the desire to try conventional gear arises, it won’t present challenges that turn them off.

Although I’ve not seen both components I selected in action matched together, I have seen both in action and know that they are both decent performing and most importantly tough!

My selection was a 12ft Ugly Stick Big Water rod matched up with a Daiwa BG90 spinner and Ande 30lb test. Over the years there has always been the thought that if you want to catch Ulua you needed conventional gear. No doubt, conventional gear is still King among Ulua fishermen and women, but, spinning gear can do it! Some of the modern spinners have very stout drag systems and frames which will stand up to a lot of abuse (by angry fish). Spectra braid line used as backing under monofilament on spinners has upped the capacity to a level where the odds of stopping a large Ulua have increased dramatically!

Getting back to my selection of a Daiwa BG90, while this reel is definately old school, it has proven itself many times over the years to be a capable and solid performer.

My good friend Steve hooked and landed a 20lb Omilu using a BG90 mounted on a Master 12ft rod. On that trip we brought home three, two were caught on spinners. The year before our annual trip produced six and four of those were landed with spinning equipment!

Steve and his 20 pound Omilu!

A 15 pounder with my trusty spinner behind me.

OK, so these are not large fish, but, ulua none the less! My point here is that newbies always think that they have to have a conventional to break the ice, I say, not so!

Here’s the video of Steve’s tussle with the fat omilu!

Fish Tech

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There many things that we all still do as fishermen that haven’t changed at all since the invention of the fish hook. Yet fishermen & women remain at least in my mind, some of the most inventive, creative sports people in the world! Constantly trying to reinvent the wheel or at least make it work better, there seems no end to innovation and refinement. Some have made the transition from hobby tinkerers to small businesses.

When we started getting serious about our pursuit of Ulua back in the early eighties, there wasn’t much in the way of specialized, purpose built tackle as we see today. Back then if you wanted an ulua pole you either had to be lucky enough to have a dad or uncle that was into it and had equipment to hand down or you had to find a custom rod builder and the money to have one made. There was a third option, build it yourself!

Edmund was the first of our group that went the build your own route, interestingly, he was also the first to catch an Ulua! I also went that route and Keith, although he was the only one who inherited ulua gear from an uncle was next to give rod wrapping a shot.

March 1982, 23 lbs. Laie Point

 I unfortunately didn’t have the same kind of luck with my first pole as Edmund. I had built a Sabre 540 and mounted a brand new Penn 6’o with a Newell Black Marlin kit. We were out at Mokuleia and I had slid down a large Oio head. The rig was so heavy I had barely got it out 25 yards, if that far! The rod was 50 yards away from our camp and we were partying pretty hard when it went off! The ratchet was screaming as I ran as hard as I could across the soft sand! As I ran I could see the pole leaning more and more over, the spike was going down! I was about 10 or 15 yards away when the pole flew out of the spike and zipped across the sand into the water, never to be seen again!! I would build two more rods before finally scoring my first Ulua out at Moi Hole in August of 1984.

It’s a lot easier to get decent equipment these days! So much so that there’s even a lot more used equipment available because of it. Heck, you can even buy an Ulua pole at Sears and Ace Hardware! The technology applied to the manufacturing of the blanks available these days is nothing short of amazing when compared to the old fibreglass blanks we had. High carbon graphite and graphite blends have made rods stronger and lighter. The process of rolling these blanks has been refined to such a finite level that despite small diameters and wispy looks the high tech blanks today generate an incredible amount of power while weighing considerably less than the old standard fiberglass blanks!

The evolution of the Ulua rod in just the  last 15 years is really amazing! 14 years ago I sold my house in Kona and moved back to Oahu to get married. This meant a serious cut back on my time spent fishing. So, as I have worked my way back into it in the last year or so, I have discovered the changes that have taken place since I lost touch have been quite dramatic! The move forward actually started a few years before my departure from Kona. Joe Kimura rods were already showing up in local stores in Kona and Kenneth Kimura had started up Island Rod Wrap (IRW). I know the latter part of that only because a friend and former fishing partner of mine in Kona, Carl, designed the logo for IRW in exchange for a custom rod. Carl was renting a room in my house at the time so I had chance to admire the beautiful candy apple red rod up close when it was still a cherry! As I look back at that now I see that it was a sign of things to come in the future. The one thing I didn’t expect was the number of manufacturers that are now building rods specifically for the Ulua fishermen. Ulua rods are no longer exclusive to the custom builder.

No pic of Carls IRW rod, but, here we are admiring the 55 lber that broke it's cherry!

In an earlier post I described trying some rods my friend Jeff had custom built himself. He built these rods using Daiwa’s Ballistic blanks. Now, I’m just slowly getting caught up with all the new stuff out there and have not tried all the custom blanks like the ones IRW has custom made for them, but, if the ballistics are not on the cutting edge then I  just can’t imagine what cutting edge blanks would be like!

I wrote this story based on an incident that happened to a friend of mine, Carl Nakai, who was renting a room in my house in Kona at the time. The story was published by Hawaii Fishing News in their July 1989 edition. Carl and I had planned this outing together and as it turns out Carl went down alone in the morning and I arrived later that day after work. This entire incident happened before I got there, so, the story is written in third person as it is Carl’s story entirely. I recall thinking it was odd to find Carl just sitting with no poles out when I pulled up. The look he gave me when we fist made eye to eye contact confirmed my feeling that something wasn’t right. 

The road finally broke through the treeline and I got my first look at the shore. Rugged black lava bordered the deep blue ocean. I reflected for a moment on how lucky I was to be living on the Big Island and having the opportunity to come to beautiful places like this to relax while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, shorecasting. I did not realize at the time the horror that was about to unfold.

When I got to the camping spot, I stood on the cliff overlooking the little island that we cast from. There was a strong swell pushing in from the south. Because of the depth of the water in the area it was difficult to determine how strong the surf was just by watching the point. The answer came quickly, however, as a large swell slammed into the bay to my right and sent a fountain of white water 20 feet high out of a blowhole some 15 feet back from the edge of the cliff. A stiff breeze out of the north blew the spray over everything including me and my freshly polished truck. I kept watching the island. The water splashed and boiled all around, but never on it. Somehow, the shape of the ledge and the depth of the water kept the little island safe. I decided to go ahead and cast my poles.

I set up my two Fenwick rods, one with an extended 4/o reel, the other with an extended 6/o and crossed over the bridge to the island. After casting both rods I slid down tohei fillets. I figured I’d leave them there for several hours till my fishing partner Joel arrived in the afternoon. I knew from experience it was very difficult to “jack-up” your poles alone at this spot.

Having gotten that done, I started back to set up camp. I looked at my watch. It was 10:30 a.m.

Suddenly, my 4/o reel went off! The bell clanged loudly and a short burst of line ripped off the reel! Then, just as quickly, the pole stood straight up and the line went slack. As I made my way back to the island I figured I had “cut line” or “no hookup.” After removing the safety cord and bell, I took up the slack. The mainline was hopelessly stuck somewhere on the bottom. I struggled with it for a while, but, due to lack of space on the island, I was unable to break it free. I finally cut the line. Feeling a bit frustrated, I carried the rod and reel back to camp to rerig. When I got there I decided to shuffle around some of the equipment and while doing so, “BANG!” the 6/o reel went off!!

I looked up fully expecting to see the rod stand up and the line go slack again, but, no, not this time! The rod arched over  violently and the ratchet screamed! Again the rod shook and pointed to the depths as the scream of the ratchet became even more frenzied! When I finally got back to the rod, line was still paying out. I knew I was hooked up solidly to something huge!

The rod was stuck in the holder, so I waited patiently as the runs started to come in shorter spurts. Finally, the rod tip slowly lifted as the pressure eased up and I quickly pulled the rod out. I leaned back on the rod to let the fish know I was there. It responded with another run. The extended 6/o was now down to below half spool. I could see the blood knot now which told me I had about 150 yards left. I remembered a discussion I had with Mel Hamada about fighting fish here and recall that his advice to me was “let ‘um run!” That’s what I had been doing to this point and I felt confident I had things under control.

As the fish slowly started to slow, I was lucky enough to find a hole in the rocks where I could set the pole and still pump the fish in like I was using a gimbal. With this added leverage I started to work the fish a little harder. It made a wide arc to the the right. Then, as it got closer, it started to veer to the left. That was the one thing I didn’t want because I had seen and heard of other fish that had gotten stuck or lost on the left side. Moments later what I had feared came true, the fish was stuck!

I slacked off the line and put the pole back in one of the holders, leaving just enough tension on the line so I could watch the tip respond to any changes. As much as I didn’t want this to happen, it was a welcome break for my arms and back. I had been fighting the fish for nearly 45 minutes. I sat and watched it for another 15 minutes and then the tip suddenly started to dip and the lines angle changed. I quickly picked up the rod and took up the slack. It was clear!

With renewed vigor I began to pump the fish up again. Slowly the spool refilled. Then, there was a huge silver slab quivering below the point just above the ledge. Ulua! I kept looking behind me up the mountain hoping to see Joel’s white truck coming down the trail. I knew it was too early for him to arrive, but, I kept hoping, realizing that landing this fish alone was going to be difficult. As I brought it closer and closer I could see the ulua was very weak and could not swim against the strong surges. Just then a large wave pulled it around the backside of the island and I lost sight of it in the white water. It resurfaced a few seconds later in front of the point and my line got caught under the island. I tried to clear it, but, to no avail. I slacked the line again and put the pole back in the holder. Quickly, I went over to where I had laid my slide gaff and uncoiled a few yards of it’s rope.

The huge ulua was 15 to 20 feet off the point being tossed around in the surge like a little 1/2 lb. papio in the shore break of some white sand beach. Each time the water receeded the fish was sucked under the point out of sight. The only thing on my mind was getting the gaff in the fish before the 80 lb. test monofiliment gave way to the sharp rocks below. Knowing full well that time was of the essence, I walked to the edge in waist deep water and began tossing the gaff out to the fish, hoping somehow to latch onto it. Time after time the gaff slid over the back of the big fish without hooking up. Finally, after what seemed an eternity (actually a few seconds), one of the gaff hooks lodged itself in the uluas massive head.

As I pulled the ulua closer, I could see a long scar across the lower part of its body. It had numerous other scars on its head and body. This was no pretty boy, it was a grizzled old-timer. I pulled the fish in and tried to lift it onto the rocks. The weight was incredible! I couldn’t lift it! The 55 pounder I had caught the month before seemed small and light by comparison.

There was no time to analyze the situation. I pulled the gaff closer to my body for better leverage and tried to grab the uluas tail. I couldn’t reach it! The fish was too long. A sudden surge came in and pulled the ulua away from me to the left. The force was so strong that it spun me around 180 degrees so that I was facing the shore with my back to the ocean. I felt the gaff slip from my grasp and rope burn through my hand. I finally let go, and the water kept coming. I was up to my neck in the rushing water. I tried desperately to hold on, but, the sea was too powerful. I made a quick gasp for air, but, all I got was a mouthful of water as I was pulled off the left side of the rock and under.

I was encased in a mass of bubbles and could feel the pressure building as the water took me deeper and deeper. I had no control over my body as the current whipped me around effortlessly. In all my years of surfing I had never experienced such fury and such a feeling of helplessness. My life began to flash before my eyes. I can remember thinking “I’m not going to make it.” Although those kinds of thoughts were passing through my mind, somehow, I guess in part to my surfing and diving experience, I managed to keep a clear head and not panic. The current finally started to ease just a bit. I kicked and flailed with all I had left, broke through the surface and took a huge gasp of air as I did. I shook my head to clear it out and saw that I was 20 to 30 feet off the point in the deep blue.

The current was still pulling me. I looked around to see if there were any boats in the area. There were none. I decided I had two choices, one, drift with the current and hope for a boat to come by, or, two, take my chances with the surge and try to get back on the island. I looked again for boats. Seeing none, I swam toward the island. “If there’s a God up there,” I thought, “please help me get in!” As I got near the point another big surge came in and neatly lifted me onto the rocks.

I scrambled up the rocks to the safety of the island like a scared a’ama crab. I sat totally exhausted. I looked back and saw the ulua floating just outside the point. I just shook my head and said, “No way.” There was no way I was going to go back in the water and get the fish. I looked down at my body and saw scrapes raked across my chest and stomach and cuts on my legs. The injuries seemes minor in light of how easily I could have lost much more. I said my thanks and a few minutes later got up to walk across the bridge back to camp.

I guzzled some ice water, sat down to collect myself and for 45 minutes watched it, the shorecasters dream, a 100 plus ulua, drifting away in the current. It wasn’t until another 45 minutes passed that the first boat came into the area. It was a zodiac containing two couples. I flagged them down and told them there was a huge ulua floating around outside. They went out in the general direction and did a few circles, but, they found nothing. At that point I knew it was just not meant to be. It was an epic heavyweight battle. I lost my trophy and nearly my life. The ulua lost it’s life. It was a fight to the finish with no winner.